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Interview with Jack Smith


In 1967, the Montreal development firm Maxwell Cummings and Sons planned three office projects in Calgary: Calgary Place, Pacific 66 Plaza, and the Royal Bank Building. The projects were led by Robert M. Cummings (1921–2009), who hired Dan Kiley and Partners of Charlotte, Vermont to do the designs. Kiley (1912–2004) assigned the projects to partner Jack Smith, who completed the work. In 1968, as a token of gratitude for the hospitality he received in Calgary, Cummings donated the Family of Man statues that still stand outside the CBE Building.


Dr Jack R. Smith, Arch.D., FAIA, NCARB, was born in Utah in 1932 and worked with Dan Kiley from 1967 to 1971. He now lives in Sun Valley, where he continues to practise. On 4 July 2021 we met to talk about his work in Calgary in the late 1960s. The following text is based on that convesation. For more information on his work, see jacksmitharchitect.com.

Calgary Modern.com: (CM) Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by Calgary Modern. We are interested in your comments since we found in our research that you were the design architect for several modern buildings in the central core of Calgary in the late 1960s. We think these buildings were significant in the formation and modern character of the office buildings of that period.


Jack Smith: (JS) I am very pleased that you contacted me and that you recognized my designs. It seems so long ago, I thought people had forgotten now that so many higher buildings have been built since then.


CM: We would like to know more about you, your background, and what brought you to Calgary. When did you first come to Calgary?


JS: I spent my honeymoon in Calgary, Banff, and Lake Louise in 1951. That was my first trip to Canada. My late wife Sue and I were skiers and we hiked to the Athabasca Glacier above Lake Louise and had a great time. We stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise.


CM: Could you talk a bit about your personal background?


JS: I was born in Provo, Utah, which was then a small town 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. I was born in 1932 in the middle of the depression. My family moved to Salt Lake City when I was about a year and a half old and that’s where I grew up. I lived there until 1967 when I left to join Dan Kiley in Vermont. I’m a skier and have been a skier for most of my life – I started at the age of three. The mountains have always been important to me.


I went to the University of Utah. It wasn’t Harvard, but in those days the school of architecture was ranked 18th in the nation. I think the important things about the school for me were the people who taught there or visited the school. When I was very young, a freshman, I met Frank Lloyd Wright at school. Only about 20-or-so students and I were sitting around with him asking questions and having conversations with him. It was extraordinary. People like Buckminster Fuller, Richard Neutra, and Ray and Charles Eames came to the school to lecture…all the big names in those days came. It was really an important thing for me to meet and learn from people of that caliber.


I entered college in 1949. In those days about half the faculty in architecture were from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France and were classicists. The other half were modernists and Bauhaus people. So, I had a mix of classicism and modernism. It was very stimulating. I think that was a very important part of my early education.


I was a Beta, and a lot of my fraternity brothers were in English literature, so I read a lot. On the entrance exam to get into college I did well in the humanities but not so well in science and mathematics. In architecture I had to overcome that obstacle. I now have a strong interest in engineering. I’ve always been interested in philosophy and art.


CM: Were you an artist before you went into architecture?


JS: I enjoyed drawing. I think basically I was very oriented to aesthetics.


CM: How did you get interested in architecture?


JS: My interest came about because my uncle was a general contractor. He was a kind of jack of all trades… he could do anything. I worked for him in the summers, starting when I was about nine straightening nails. In the war years new nails were hard to get. Working for my uncle Ben brought me into that world of building. He was very generous in his interest in teaching me how to frame a building…teaching me about the names of building elements, studs, joist, rafters, and the like. His son Max was a designer. He encouraged me to read about architecture. I read most all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s writings before I entered college.


I think another influence was when I saw in Life Magazine an article that had a Zen master calligrapher sitting in a tea house in a Japanese garden. I’d never seen anything like that before, being brought up in Salt Lake. I was stunned by its beauty. I’ve been interested in Japanese architecture, Japanese philosophy, and the Japanese influence since then. I went back to school when I was in my late 60s to get a doctorate in architecture. Since I was already an architect, I spent most of my tine in the philosophy department. I studied east-west comparative philosophy and spent some time in Japan. I wrote my dissertation on Shinto and its influence on the modern architecture of the early 20th century.


CM: We noted in our research that you have been a teacher as well as a practitioner. Please tell us about your teaching experience.


JS: I started teaching in 1964, quite early in my career. I left school before graduating due to financial and family pressures, and yet I was asked to come back and teach. Being asked to teach without a degree and before licensure is quite unusual in the academic world. I’m not sure of all the reasons, but I think the Dean was aware of my passion for architecture and my relationship with John Sugden. I had started working as an apprentice for John in 1953. Meeting John came through skiing. He was a Mies van der Rohe protégé. He was also in the 10thMountain Division, which was a skiing and mountaineering division in World War II. He saw action in Italy and got the Silver Star. Dev Jennings, one of my ski coaches, introduced me to John. Working for John was almost like working for Mies, it was incredible. He took me to Mies’s office a few times in Chicago. It is important to note that Mies was and is recognized as the most important architect of the 20th century.


CM: Did you meet Mies?


JS: I went to his office a few times with Sugden, but he was never there! I met everybody else in his office, but I missed him every time. I never did shake his hand.


CM: Tell us about your relationship with Dan Kiley.


JS: I met Dan in 1964 at the University of Utah where I was teaching half-time. He came to lecture there on landscape architecture and its relationship to architecture and the natural environment. His respect for the environment was Buddhist like. I was surprised that landscape architecture involved large scale land-use studies, not just garden design. His knowledge of architecture was also most impressive to me. Like Mies, Dan was a modernist, and interestingly like Mies, Dan is recognized as the most important landscape architect of the 20th century.


Dan returned to our school to lecture the following year. At that time, I had been asked by my skiing friend Ted Jonson, to work with him on the early concepts and designs for a new ski area near Alta, Utah. Knowing the large scope of what was later to be called Snowbird, I was aware of my need for assistance from a seasoned professional, so I asked Dan to go skiing with me. He was delighted and had brought his skis with him from Vermont hoping to ski at Alta. Dan was an excellent east coast skier. We skied together that day and I showed him the area and discussed my involvement with Snowbird. Dan made several suggestions on my planning approach, the most important was the suggestion of a skier’s bridge to a central plaza. This was later to be the key idea in the planning of the resort. That day of skiing led to a professional and personal relationship with Dan until his death in 2004.


Since Snowbird was not yet funded, Dan invited me to work for him, which was astonishing since he was a world-famous landscape architect. I jumped at the chance. He moved us from Salt Lake City to Vermont in 1967 with my wife and three kids and found us a place to live.


I was suddenly involved with Dan in an international practice. Our clients were people like Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche, and I. M. Pei… many of the major architects of that time. Dan was a landscape architect. I was trained as an architect but interested in environmental issues as well. My first project with Dan was for Lawrence Rockefeller, who sponsored a 10,000 square mile environmental study in Vermont. I made the presentation to First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, Stewart Udall, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Rockefeller, and Governor and Mrs. Philip Hoff…a formidable experience.


I stayed with Dan Kiley and Partners until Snowbird was funded. With Dan’s encouragement I returned to Salt Lake to complete my work on Snowbird and start my own firm, Enteleki.


During my tenure with Dan from 1967 to 1971, I was involved in many projects, most of which were oriented to landscape design, campus planning and environmental studies. Being the only architect in the firm, I was anxious to do some design work in architecture. The opportunity came when Bob Cummings came to our office.


CM: What brought Bob Cummings to Kiley’s office and who was he?


JS: Bob and Jack Cummings were the sons of Maxwell Cummings. Maxwell Cummings and Sons, or Cummings Properties, was a real estate holding company located in Montreal. They developed and owned commercial properties across Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver.


CM: How did Bob Cummings find Kiley? It seems a bit odd coming from Montreal to hire a Vermont firm.


JS: Cummings had an idea of developing Sir Winston Churchill Square, the central square in Edmonton, into a park with an underground shopping center. Because it was a park, it involved landscape architecture. Dan had just finished Oakland Museum, which is a non-building… basically a museum under a garden in Oakland. I think this led to Cummings seeking Dan out to do a similar project to that in Oakland.

I was assigned, as partner in charge, to that project because it was partly architectural. We designed a dome at the center and put the shopping down below. That project never went ahead. It didn’t get funding or something, but we did a preliminary design for it.


CM: How and why then did the architectural projects in Calgary come about since they were primarily architectural and not landscape architecture?


After the Edmonton project fell through, we didn’t hear from Cummings until we got a call asking if we were interested in doing some work in Calgary for them. They had engaged in developing an office complex for Mobil Oil. Abugov and Sunderlund were architects from Calgary. They had presented a design for the Mobil Oil Building to the representatives of Mobil Oil Corporation, their consulting architect, Eliot Noyes, and Cummings Properties. Eliot Noyes, a well-known architect from Harvard, was the consulting architect for Mobil Oil, IBM, and other large corporations. He did not approve of the work that Abugov and Sunderlund had done. He felt that it did not come up to the design standards he had established for Mobil Oil and their image. I’m guessing here, but I think Dan and Elliot may have known each other at Harvard. I am sure however that Elliot knew of Dan’s reputation. Cummings mentioned our work with them in Edmonton and my being the design architect in Dan’s firm. We were subsequently asked to completely rethink the design for what would become Calgary Place. For me it was a dream come true. Our designs were well received, and we were asked to be the “Design Architects” for the project. I must admit to a bit of friction, during the course of the work, between Abugov and Sunderland and me, due to the imposition of our designs, and their being subordinated to production architects.

CM: Was it just a single tower at this point?


JS: It was just a single tower for Mobil Oil to start, but it very quickly grew into the whole complex which included the Superior Oil tower, the Toronto Dominion Bank, and a shopping center with parking below…a full block which also connected to the Calgary Inn with a pedestrian bridge. I think the bridge, called the plus fifteen pedestrian system, may have been the first, or one of the first, in that system for the downtown core of Calgary. Cummings also went into partnership on Calgary Place with the general contractor, Sam Hashman. Sam wasn’t much involved in the design, but that being said, he and Cummings did hire an amazingly good engineering firm, Read Jones Christoffersen, from Vancouver. I worked with Per Christoffersen (1924–2003) on all the projects in Calgary. He was a great engineer.

CM: Did you do the designs alone?


JS: No, I was the design architect, but other people in our office, the contractors, and the engineers, were very much involved. The construction methods and structural engineering were very important in the design process. Concrete framing was chosen for all the buildings. 31 storeys in 1967 was considered very high in concrete. The method of constructing concrete buildings was important too. We used a system called flying forms. This method is similar to stage forming, but the forms are pulled and “flown” with a crane to the next floor level which is faster and more efficient time and labor wise than stage forming. This was an important part of the process. The buildings turned out to be very cost efficient.


CM: What style were you working in?


JS: I would say modern, but I don’t like the term style or “International Style.” Modernity isn’t a style: it’s a way of thinking or an idea. Modernity isn’t a point in time, it’s a state of mind. I see modernism as a lineal continuation of a rational approach to design and living. Mies said, "There is style in architecture, but architecture is not style."


CM: Could you talk about the corner windows on Calgary Place?


JS: You raise an interesting question here. Classical architecture plays a role in this discussion. Turning the corner in a building has been an aesthetic and functional issue from very early tines including the Parthenon. This discussion would be more fitting in a lecture, but to simplify it, how the corner is handled relates to the module and bay system. A bay is the space between principal columns and a module is the division between the bay. In the buildings in Calgary Place the bay was thirty feet by thirty feet and the module was five feet. The thirty-foot bay was based on an efficient parking layout below the buildings and an efficient structural span in a concrete floor system. If you layout the geometry for this, in- order to keep the five-foot module even on all facades for an efficient window and office layout, the corner needs to accommodate that geometry, hence the corner window and spaced mullions. If you do not have similar or the same facades as you turn the corner like the Royal Bank building, then the corner is very different. There is also a cadence set up by the five-foot module which establishes a certain scale to the façade which is an aesthetic issue. Music is similar in that the cadence or module is measured in time. In architecture it is measured in space.


CM: Could you tell us a bit about the bridge design that connects to the Calgary Inn across the street?


JS: Yes, as I mentioned, the bridge was one of the first, if not the first, to establish the plus-fifteen pedestrian system in the core of Calgary. Given the extreme cold temperatures Calgary can get in winter, a warmed circulation system above traffic was a good idea. It also gave rise to an additional floor or mezzanine for added commercial area. The bridge was one of my favorite projects in that it is a steel frame. It gave me the opportunity to detail steel in a way that I was taught in the Miesian tradition. There are no gusset plates at the connections which would be normal in say a railroad bridge. It’s a pure Pratt truss and each steel member is expressed and has its own structural and aesthetic integrity. You might note how the lower beams or purlins hang from the lower chord. I am very proud of it.


CM: After Calgary Place, what was your next project and when did it occur?


JS: The next project was Pacific 66 on sixth and sixth. We received the commission very shortly after Calgary Place. The local architects of record, with whom we worked, were Stevenson, Raines, Barrett, Hutton, and Seaton. They were very professional and easy to work with. The structural engineers were Read, Jones, Christoffersen. Working again with Per Christoffersen was a real pleasure. The design came about principally because we precast the concrete facade. That building, by the way, was the least expensive of all of them. We designed a precast facade system; the aesthetics were my department, but the engineering was very much a part of the design. The bays were 30 feet wide by 10 or 12 feet high and were precast as a single unit. They were hoisted up with a crane and bolted to the concrete structural frame. This process saved considerable time in labor. You may note the way this building turns the corner is different than the Calgary Place buildings. The mullions are part of the aesthetic cadence, but they also encase the windows and are grooved to accommodate the widow washing equipment.